Indonesia has suspended its search for the AirAsia flight that went missing this morning while en route from Indonesia to Singapore.
As darkness fell, the authorities decided to call off their operations for the night and resume them in the morning.
The Indonesian air force had been scouring about 100 square nautical miles of the Java Sea between Belitung island off the east coast of Sumatra and West Kalimantan on Indonesian Borneo.
Bad weather has hampered search efforts and visibility was down to between two and five kilometres.
There were two pilots, four flight attendants, and one engineer on board the missing aircraft along with 155 passengers. Among the passenger were 138 adults, 16 children, and one infant.
There were 155 Indonesians on board the airbus, along with three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one passenger from the United Kingdom, and one French crew member.
It is believed that the Airbus A320 changed route to try and avoid a thunderstorm. It has been reported that the plane had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds.
Thunderstorms were reported in the area with clouds up to 50,000 feet, Indonesian officials said.
Announcing the loss of contact with the plane, AirAsia said in a statement earlier today: “AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24 (Surabaya local time) this morning. The flight took off from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya at 0535hours.”
AirAsia said the missing aircraft is an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.
The company said the captain in command of the aircraft had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours.
The airline added: “At this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of The Indonesian Civil Aviation Authority. AirAsia Indonesia is cooperating fully and assisting the investigation in every possible way.
“The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of Indonesian Air Traffic Control.”
AirAsia also stated that the aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on November 16, 2014.
Messages of concern flood in
The CEO of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, said on twitter: “Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. We must stay strong.”
He later tweeted: “My only thoughts are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the SAR operation and thank the Indonesian, Singapore and Malaysian governments.”
He urged optimism and said his priority was looking after the next of kin of his staff and the plane’s passengers. The disappearance of the plane was, he said, his worst nightmare.
“I am touched by the massive show of support especially from my fellow airlines,” he added.
Malaysia, Britain, Australia, Singapore, and South Korea have all offered to join the search.
AirAsia Indonesia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, with local investors holding the rest. The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, has not had a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002. It is a hugely popular and successful airline.
Malaysia has already suffered two air tragedies this year. No trace has yet been found of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was then shot down over Ukraine, and it is still not clear who was responsible.
AirAsia has established an emergency call centre for the relatives or friends of those on board the aircraft. Telephone: 0062212
Messages of concern are flooding in on twitter on #prayfor airasia